BASEMENT JAXX are on top of the
world. It’s a view these inveterate musical explorers have long embraced ever
since minting at the turn of the millennium the currently voguish,
airwave-dominating pop-house sound. As they prepare to release JUNTO, their earth-shaking,
hip-shaking new album, that view is taking on added meaning.
From Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton’s new studio in north
London in a business-y space that’s now the biggest music hub in the city, they
can see the transformation of Kings Cross down below. They can hear it too: the
clankand whirr of hard-hatted workers toiling to transform these acres
of onetime railway yards into a new travel hub, new town-within-a-city, new
gateway to Europe. Right now there’s no place they’d rather be and unlike their
last studio near Brixton, this one has windows. Let there be light and tunes
that hark back to the jump-around, era-defining likes of “Where’s Your Head At,” “Red
Alert” and “Romeo.”
JUNTO is the duo’s seventh studio album. Two years in
the making, it’s the first since they set out on their own after the completion
of their decade-plus contract with XL.
Now they’re working with Coop/PIAS
to release via their own long-running imprint Atlantic Jaxx.
So it’s the sound of
freedom (not that XL kept them chained in a cellar + made them churn out
And it’s the sound of
ambition (not that the Glastonbury-headlining, triple platinum album-selling,
Brit- and Grammy-winning maestros of global dancetronica have ever lacked
ambition) and of Simon and Felix diving back into sunshine and the
spotlight (not that they’ve been wintering in idleness and obscurity--they’ve
written two film scores, produced an orchestral album and last year they released
two singles “…just to dip our toes in the water.” They’re not on the new album.
BASEMENT JAXX, blessed with
collaborators and ideas had too many other crackers competing for slots on the
The spirit of the album
is there in the title. JUNTO means together
in Spanish. It’s definitely notto be confused with the name for a
despotic Latin American regime. And Simon
and Felix wear their heart on their
record sleeve: the cover of JUNTO
features a new logo based on “clouds and nature and sacred geometry”, which was
created by the winner of a design competition the duo ran a couple of years
“With this album we
wanted to do something that felt more at one with the world,” says Felix. “…which is partly to do with my
awakening after I saw a UFO from the studio.”
But let’s not go there.
Not today at least. (“He talks about the UFO every day!” exclaims Simon, his long-term partner, half-sceptical,
half-believing “He’s evangelical about it!”) Let’s talk instead about the
album’s most hardcore dance song, the heavy, grinding, throbbing “Buffalo.”
“In the car I was
listening to some jungle on a pirate station,” says Felix by way of explaining the track’s genesis, “…and I was
thinking, ‘wow, this sound really fresh again…’”
“And we were partly
inspired by ‘Harlem Shake,’” adds Simon.
The pair are as much the enthusiastic students of dance music’s ever-evolving
shapes and genres as they ever were. “So we thought it would be a good idea to
do a drum and bass trap song.”
Vocals are by
transgender rapper Mykki Blanco.
Well, some of them are. “He’s pretty out there,” nods Felix, and this is truer than they initially imagined. Blanco vanished before they could
finish the track with him – he’s currently they think really out there
in the desert.
It all adds to the
cheerfully inventive, explosively enjoyable vibe of an album written and
finessed over the last couple of years. As they’ve always been, BASEMENT JAXX are both diligent and
instinctive, forever alert to the creative possibilities offered by new talent.
Forget this-or-that Big Name Guest Star – what can a fresh voice bring to the
So JUNTO features walk-on vocals from
singers they met in the car park of their studio (Niara, big-lunged singer of “Power
To The People”), on the street at the Edinburgh Festival (Scottish rapper Patricia Panther, who’s on the sexually
gobby “Summer Dem”), and from amidst
the ranks of their carny-style “Jaxx family” touring party (Shakka, who toplines the World Cup
samba-party vibes of “Rock This Road”).
Opening the album after
an intro fanfare is “Power To The People.”
The celestial strum of harp ushers in an anthem of global togetherness. Without
getting all barefoot hippy and fluffbrained dippy, “Power To The People” is a call to peaceful arms. Niara’s clarion vocal is backed by a
kids’ chorus, 5000 fans recorded on Basement Jaxx’s last tour, and The Recycled Orchestra of Catuera in Paraguay. It’s big of melody and even bigger of aspiration.
“We’re developing an
internet machine, powertothepeople.fm,” explains Felix. “And Facebook friends from
around the world that I’ve met over the years – from India to Indonesia – are
going to be doing different versions of the song. It’s a very universal song,
and it’s about how we’re all connected, chaos theory and all that.”
Watch this space for the
big reveal: BASEMENT JAXX hope to
unveil their multiple-participant iterations of P2TP on International Day of
Peace on Sunday, September 21.
So, make love not war.
It’s a sentiment echoed on “Mermaid Of
Salinas.” Already released as a 12-inch in Japan--the JAXX global family of fans are always hungry for tunes--the
carnival-conjuring song was inspired by a friend’s experience getting amorous
with a complete stranger in the waters off Ibiza’s chicest beach.
And there’s more on a
vividly colourful album that bustles and bursts with robustly peacenik atmos.
The closing song, “Love Is At Your Side,”
a hymn to Simon’s young daughter, is sung by folkie Sam Brookes, and is like Bon
Iver taking the mic at Café Del Mar. It’s a suntan for the soul, and it’s
The first single meanwhile
is the euphoric “Never Say Never,” a
scorcher-in-waiting. It’s not so much radio-friendly as radio-frisky, supremely
joyous and irresistibly feelgood. Sung by south London school-leaver sensation ETML, flecked with strings and studded
with piano, its youthful British soul-house at its ear-tingling best. You might
say that “Never Say Never” joins the
dots between all the big club/chart crossover tunes of the past year, then
creates a whole new, next-level tune. From the guys who invented the sound,
we’d expect no less.
And that’s about, oh,
half the tracks and only a fraction of the guests and players and ideas on this
bold, boisterous, brilliant album. Summer is almost here, and the JAXX are back. Let’s get this party
started. Let’s get JUNTO.